Cult New Zealand actor, Jed Brophy, talks to the Odours of the Odeon team about his experience on the 1992 Peter Jackson gore-fest Braindead.
Having worked with Peter Jackson for 26 years, Jed has played roles in huge blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong and the Hobbit Trilogy.
Jed spoke in depth about his career, up and coming film project Blue Moon, and inspiring British Film makers such as Simon Pegg.
Well I suppose a good place to kick off with, the last time I saw you on my screen you were donning a rockabilly haircut and you were being sucked into a toilet, and obviously I'm talking about Braindead in which you played the character of a Void. It is such an incredible film. I wanted to learn a little bit more about that from the beginning, how did that opportunity present itself to you?
JB: Well and I think in 1989 or 1990, I graduated in drama school, had an agent and an audition came through for the part of Lionel actually, but I didn't know I hadn't seen Peter Jackson's films at that stage; I hadn't caught up on Bad Taste. I think I'd seen Meet the Feeble but I'd never met him. And that project fell through for a couple of years because I think one of the producers might have absconded with some of the money, the way Peter tells the story.
Two years later they rewrote the script and set it in the 50s, and I was doing a play at a theatre in Wellington, written by one of the co-writers Stephen Sinclair of Braindead. He suggested to Peter that he'd seen the play and to see me for the part of Void, so I kind of got the part by proxy really.
I think someone pulled out. And they offered me the part of this lead zombie and I said yes, and I'd sort of forgotten about my original audition as Lionel. It wasn't until we were shooting that I went "oh yes that's that film".
I mean that film is another level with the amount of gore, it must have been so much fun to make?
JB: It was, it was not an effort to go to work every day. I literally loved going to work on that job. But it was practical there were no CGI effects, I think the entire special effects budget wouldn't have even paid for coffee on Lord of the Rings.
I'd never done prosthetics before, not had lenses put in my eyes, my stunt double wouldn't shave his moustache so I conducted my own stunts on the film, which was pretty cool, it's a pretty cool thing to do. But yes getting to work with Peter's [Jackson] genius and watching the way that he cuts together the scenes and the humour that he brought to it, it was actually still my favourite filming experience probably.
You're in all the Lord of the Rings films, you're in district 9, you've in King Kong and then you played Nori in all the Hobbit films, so you've obviously built up quite a special relationship over the years with Peter Jackson?
JB: Yes I feel very privileged to have met him when he was starting out on this film career early and I've always stepped up and done as good a job as I can for him, I'm pretty loyal to him so I support what he does 100% because of what he's done to the film industry here [New Zealand]. I've been lucky enough to be a part of that. A lot of it's location I live not very far away from where the studio is, but it's also that Peter is very loyal to people who front up and give 100%. He really values the people that work for him and that's why I like working for him. He's an honest boss, he's very respectful but he's a genius and part of his genius is surrounding himself with people who are very good of what they do. I know that he won't mind me saying this, but I know that he feels the loss of Andrew Lisney, his cinematographer, very much because they were such kindred spirits, and that's a mark it had as a filmmaker. He manages to keep good people around him.
He's a funny guy, he's a naughty guy and so you have a lot of fun on set. There's not a lot of reverence on a Peter Jackson set, he's reverential of the material and what he's trying to achieve for his fans but he also does it in a kind of a rock-and-roll way which we love.
And it's interesting because there's an argument that Peter Jackson's put New Zealand on the map from a film perspective, but actually when you look into it New Zealand has been producing some incredible films over the years. The piano was nominated for Oscars and I think it won four, Whale Rider, Black Sheep, and Once Were Warriors is a fantastic film. New Zealand just seems to keep producing incredible films and incredible filmmakers as well.
JB: You have to do more than one thing in New Zealand to be working in the film industry, so a lot of people who started out as editors or as runners end up making their own films. There's not a lot of money; there's only one funding body and it's all funded by four million tax payers. So it's not a huge amount of money to make films with, that creates a kind of inventive and elevation when it comes to technology and writing it. I think we're very different in terms our arts industry, it got quite a dark underbelly in New Zealand and that creates a kind of a dark humour which is very different to any other country. I think it's our uniqueness in our isolation that lends itself to making those kind of films, and we also don't like to be told how to do things, we have a way of doing things which is very unique to us and we're very bloody minded We're a stubborn race and we follow things through and get it done.
You've recently made an independent film called Blue Moon. How does that experience differ from the huge blockbusters you've been making over the years?
JB: Yes, it's really fun doing those big films you have a great camaraderie with the people that you're doing it with, you get to spend a long time, you get paid well, you get fed well. In a year you do as much acting as we did in six days on Blue Moon, that's reality in terms of actually doing stuff on screen where you're doing really intimate takes with people and carrying large chunks of dialogue. The green-screen films that we do is broken up with a lot of action, a lot of the day it's just shooting then walking from one spot to another looking at a dragon that can't see.
So it was nice, it was a renewing experience to going back to do what we love which is having an on-screen relationship with someone. On those big films so much of what we do is then enhanced a million times by the most amazing technical aspects. But they are poles apart but as much as I enjoy doing those big films I think Mark and I probably enjoyed this as much as anything we've ever done.
New Zealand seems to have a booming film industry?
JB: I think the problem is that a lot of the films that we make here don't get seen outside of NZ, so you get to see the really good ones. But yes we are lucky, if you have a look at something like Flight of the Conchords they were told by the funding buddies here in New Zealand that they would never make it overseas. I think everyone was as surprised as they were by what an international following they got. But that kind of humour is universal, those guys have touched on something that you can all laugh at. Same with What we do in the Shadows, same as Black Sheep, that dark humour that international audiences really like.
If you look at the likes of the TV series Fargo it's pretty dark humour but it's really watchable, and I think that we're more affected by dark British humour and dark American humour than we are by our neighbours across the ditch. We don't tend to make films like Australia because they're kind of too close, if you know what I mean, they are our nearest neighbour and we have a huge rivalry with Australia in sports. I think we sort of shy away from trying to do those kind of films. Having said that, I think there's room here to do a Western or two, I think we have the landscape for it, it's always a big mind boggling to me that we don't have a Western TV series.
Well that actually brings us pretty much back to Braindead, how was it actually received in New Zealand when it came out?
JB: You know it was an R16 here so it had a restricted rating on it because of the amount of blood and I think, I might be wrong about this, but I was told last year that it still holds the Guinness Book of Records for the most blood being used in a film.
Setting in the 50s was great, because you can do away with the modernism and there was a sort of the mannerism of post-war New Zealand was very staid and very conservative. On the other hand they had these huge drinking parties, these alcohol fuelled parties and we had what we call the six o'clock swirl where the pub will close at six o'clock. So after work for six o'clock you just drink as much as you can, I think that kind of comes out on the film too in terms of placing it in that time period was a very clever thing to do. Yes doing stuff like the rake going through the head and the stair fall. The land mower scene, trying to work out how to do that, they had to cut a hole in the floor for me to kind of disappear into to make it look like I was getting chewed up by the lawnmower.
They had 50 gallons per second getting pumped up into my face and that blood actually got in behind my lenses and I was sort of blind for half a day at the end of that shot. That's what I remember from that day, and everybody that wasn't working had buckets of body parts that they were throwing in turn. It was the most fun gig, it was just so inventive and fun to do. Pretty much everyone in the crew did four or five different things including being in the film.
It sounds like an amazing set to have worked on. I was amazed at how much of the film is paid tribute to in Shaun of the Dead. It borrows a lot from Braindead.
JB: I'll tell you what man, we were lucky enough to go to the world premiere of World's End here in New Zealand both Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and even Wright came over and we headed at the Embassy Theatre and I actually got to talk to those guys which was hilarious. Incredibly now I'm a huge fan of their work and to found out that I'm their favourite zombie and that some of the stuff that they did In Shaun if the Dead was a tribute to Brandead. That meant a lot, probably more than any other kind of reference to other work that I've done.